The obnoxious heat had everybody on edge as the debate heated up faster than the temperature. Shrieks cut through the thick humid air and angry hands waved about dramatically. It was 2005 and the boys and girls in Sra. Torres’s fourth grade class were suffocating in our starchy uniforms as the island felt like it was swaying back and forth of the Caribbean Sea. The discussion was between a group led by myself, a nine year old girl with a mouth too big for her own good, and another lead by José, a nine year-old boy with fists to big for his own good.
We weren’t arguing about which telenovela, Rebelde or Complices al rescate, had better songs (in Latin America,telenovelas or soap operas were made for children). Nor were we fighting over who had the coolest lunch box. It was mid September and the elections for the Puerto Rican governor were in November and campaigns were in full swing.
“Roselló!” José yelled as his face turned red. ”Pesquera!” I responded passionately. Pedro Roselló and Carlos Pesquera were candidates for governor within the pro-statehood party of Puerto Rico, PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresista) in Spanish, and NPP (New Progressive Party) in English. It was a given that in this private Catholic school everybody was pro statehood except for a minority of populares that supported the pro-Commonwealth party, PPD (Partido Popular Democrático). The PNP and PPD were the main parties, at least they were the only ones we cared about. The third party was the PIP (Partido Idependentista Puertoriqueño); pro-independence. Upper-middle class people pretended they didn’t exist, they were considered dangerous radicals that must be suppressed and feared.
Before the argument got any further the teacher clapped her hands and we all instinctively put our lunches away, stood up besides our desks, and proudly recited the post-meal prayer in perfect American English despite being native Spanish speakers.
At nine years of age my brain was filled with ignorant thoughts and narrow-minded ideas, I developed from looking at my immediate surroundings. This event was the manifestation of political tribalism in Puerto Rico and how it’s passed on to the next generation. We thought the pro-commonwealth were pava-wearing mountain people and that the pro-independence were hairy hipsters; they all looked at us as wannabe-gringo elitists. We were at an age where we could barely do long division and there we were fighting over who would govern the island. We indiscriminately defended our parent’s beliefs, whether they liked it or not.
Being so passionate about such a serious subject at such a young age was a crucial part in my development as an individual. After that my friends’ mothers started calling me la abogada, Spanish for the lawyer, and would ask for my ‘educated’ opinions on anything political to laugh and give me a pat on the head.
That gave me a sense of responsibility, despite being so young and ignorant, something that made me feel like I was meant to do something more. I didn’t know what ‘more’ meant but I needed to do it, no matter what it takes. Along with that feeling of responsibility was a feeling of emptiness. I still didn’t know what ‘more’ was. I pushed myself to learn as much as I could of whatever I could. I asked every question and thought of every answer. I did what I could with what I had: my passion, what at that moment made me feel so alive despite not knowing what I was doing. It was my passion that propelled me into this endless search for ‘more.’ There is no such thing as an inspirational ‘aha’ moment where life turns around and points at the direction you need to go. Life just gives you passion for that one thing you can’t get enough of and you defend it like family. For me it’s politics, but my life will always be about satisfying that passion and hunger, wherever it may take me.